Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Callows Farmers

The Callows farmers really get behind conservation projects and the wader grant scheme farmers are no different.  Often they go out of their way to help us in our daily work; many lend us their boats, so we can survey their islands on the Shannon. Others change their whole stocking system around so we won’t have to survey a field with a bull in it. Still more keep watch over the birds between our survey visits, filling us in on anything we may have missed and letting us know when predators are about.

Steven unlocking his boat for us. © K. Finney 

A number of our farmers have gone far beyond the requirements of their management agreement to improve their land for breeding waders. Several farmers have granted permission for scrub and tree removal, while others have allowed drains to be reprofiled and the creation of wader scrapes. On Inishee the farmers worked closely with us and allowed us to erect a predator proof fence, a first for Ireland.

Mute Swans using Brendan's newly created wader pond. © K. Finney
All have partaken in regular workshops on wader ecology and receive numerous advisory visits and phone calls each year. Many ring us for advice or “just to pass things by us”. It’s a system that works well and today it was really great to see it pay off for one of our farmers.

When cleaning his drains last autumn Brendan asked us to advise him on how to make them more suitable for chick rearing. He duly implemented our recommendations and today we recorded up to six pairs of Redshank, two pair of Lapwing and a pair of Mute Swans using his field. A great result.

Brendan and myself talking about his plan to usurp Inishee.
© K. Finney

His land is adjacent to Inishee and he is determined to rival its success. In fact he prides himself on the fact that the Lapwing moved over from Inshee to rear their chicks on his land!!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Summer in the Callows

Everywhere is beautiful in weather like this, but the Callows are special.

On weeks like this I have the best job. Out and about by the water’s edge, the calm gentle meandering river; the quite buzz of insects and bees, the happy summer sound of skylark in song, the soft piping of Redshank on guard - just keeping watch.  

On our way to work on Inishee © K. Finney  

On Inishee, 30 of the 34-37 pairs of Redshank have chicks, some now a few weeks old. More often than not, the male is left to finish rearing the chicks alone and there are now 15 single fathers on the island. The Lapwing have nearly all hatched and one pair have moved their chicks across the river to an adjacent field, also under management. They do this every year, hopefully their chicks will eventually breed in this field.  

Pumping water on Inishee © K. Finney  
Pumping water on Inishee © K. Finney

The hot dry spell means that we have begun pumping water into the drains, ensuring the chicks have enough wet patches to feed around.  

Both Alan and Anita managed to fit a quick site visit into their busy schedule. Both were suitably impressed that all the hard work has paid off. 

 Alan Lauder CEO on Inishee this week © K. Finney
Anita Donaghy, Project Manager on Inisee this week © K. Finney

The fine weather has also allowed more accurate surveys of the rest of our wader sites and we are turning up more pairs, some expanding out into new areas, also under management. The farmers will be so pleased, all their hard work to create suitable breeding habitat is paying off.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Summer is peeping through

They’re back - Corncrake are back!  The wind has died down, the hail has stopped falling and summer is peeping through.

More so than with anything else, the Callows farmers associate the Corncrake with summer. It’s a bird they hold close to their hearts, lamenting often, the dramatic declines of the past few years, made worse by successive summer floods. Together with BirdWatch Ireland and NPWS many of them have worked so hard to ensure its survival, making the years of successive summer floods all the more cruel… I guess that’s what they mean by nature can be cruel. While only one calling male was confirmed last year, its existence made everyone feel better. But it was always feared that this year might be 'the year there were none'. So you can imagine how happy it made myself and Hanna to hear one. The farmers will be so happy. Hopefully there will be more.

Corncrake © B. Clarke

Things are looking a little brighter on the wader sites too, although there is still very little growth for the farmers. The calm bright weather has turned up more birds, especially on sites where numbers were looking lower than normal. Quite a number of Redshank are hanging around in small groups by the shore and hopefully with some better weather these will settle down to breed, if they’ve not already started.

Grass growth on the Callows as of this week. ©   K. Finney  

Inishee has exploded with life and I feel really proud of what we have achieved. It’s a real example of how funders, landowners, conservationists and volunteers all working together can make a real difference.  Although I must admit that this feeling is replaced by sheer frustration when trying to get a count on the birds!

Lapwing chick on the move  © B. Caffrey
The latest and most up to date count is eight pairs of Lapwing (with possibly a ninth pair), 32-34 pairs of Redshank (we think it’s 34, but couldn’t confirm on this visit), one pair of Curlew and numerous Snipe (its still a bit early to get an accurate count). With up to 94 birds in the air, lifting and landing, circling and calling, landing, lifting, joining others and circling, you can see why counting them has become such a trauma!

27 pairs of Redshank and seven pairs of Lapwing have already hatched chicks, so at the moment there could be as many as 136 chicks running around the island, with more on the way!

I hope some of the fencing volunteers are reading this, well done guys you should be really proud of yourselves, I am.

Monday, 14 May 2012

I’m sure May is in Summer?

I’m glad I didn’t call this blog “Summer in the Callows”! I can’t believe it’s the middle of May, we’re wrapped up as if its winter when out doing fieldwork; dodging the hail showers and trying to warm our hands under our armpits. And the wind, there are actual waves on the river most days!

I’ve never seen so little grass on the Callows, which says a lot given that I’m born and raised here. There's been so little growth that most of the wader sites look like the winter flood has just receded. The poor farmers are really starting to struggle, many have had to re-house livestock and resume winter feeding. If this weather keeps up they are going to be very short of feed which could make adhering to the grant scheme stocking restrictions very difficult. 

On Inishee Island the Redshank count is up to between 23 - 25 pairs, we also think there is an eighth pair of Lapwing; were hoping to confirm these numbers later in the week.  Eight pairs of Redshank have already hatched chicks and we expect a few more the next time were out. The chicks will still be nothing more than tiny balls of fluff; it’s hard to believe they have to fend for themselves. The weather must be punishing on them, how they’ll manage the frosts that are promised I just don’t know. I can’t imagine that food is too easy to find at the moment either, for while there are lots of shallow muddy pools, they’re not exactly alive with flies and insects. Fingers crossed they manage to keep warm and find enough food.

Day old Redshank chicks, just before they leave the nest. © A. Copland

Lapwing don’t seem to be having a very good year on the Callows. It looks like quite a few pairs have taken a year out and not even tried to breed. Birds returned as normal and hung around for a while, but never started breeding and many of them had left by the end of April. It’s not unusual for them to miss a year when the weather is this bad.

Lapwing and chick circa 1 week old.  ©  R. Kennedy RSPB images 
Sadly we already lost our first two broods; they only survived for about a week.  We spotted a fox hunting in the area last week, so we’re not sure if they perished because of the weather or depredation. There was no sign of them when we surveyed the site last Friday and I came across the adults feeding in a flock just down river. They took off, flying high and away from the Callows. When they fail, they leave the Callows almost immediately.

The Whimbrel have started to flock and are getting ready to move on. Whinchat have arrived back to some of their usual sites and Wheatear are now passing through. They must have gotten a shock, given the weather. I even turned up four Turnstone on Friday. They were so totally out of context that I spent the first few minutes trying to turn them into Ringed Plover!! I’ve never seen them on the Callows before and even more amazingly, the only other record of them in the Midlands, that I know of, is from Lough Boora in 2010 - on the same date!

Fingers crossed the weather improves soon.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The 2012 season beguins

Redshank post sitting ©   B. Caffrey  
The 2012 wader breeding season is now well underway, despite the cold weather.  The birds started to arrive back to their breeding grounds around mid February, pair up and establish territories. Nesting seems to be late this year though and although some birds are very obviously on eggs, so far only one pair of Redshank have hatched chicks. The high winds and cold weather has possibly delayed breeding a little. The weathers also been hampering our efforts. Survey work is difficult and not very accurate in such strong winds and some boat crossings are just not possible, site visits having to be abandoned. Not at all midlands weather!

Predator proof fence, Inishee Island ©  Kilian Kelly 


The predator proof fence on Inishee Island has been on for the last month and as always is working like a dream. A big thank you to this year’s volunteers.

Lapwing in flight  ©  J. Veldman 
This week’s count tuned up seven pairs of Lapwing, approximately 20 Redshank pairs, one, possibly two pairs of Curlew and numerous snipe.  Since its erection in 2009 the population has increased each year, this year being no exception. Once dubbed the island of death by Fieldworkers because depredation rates were so high, it couldn’t be more alive today.  Lapwing with their characteristic call of an old fashioned radio being tuned, tumble and dive in display flight overhead. The meadows watchdog, the Redshank stand guard on the fence posts, alerting all of our approach before ganging up and performing a noise high speed fly-by.  The Curlew must be on eggs, instead of both performing their usual gurgling call and display flight, one now sneaks off from their nesting area in low flight and without a sound.  A third bird is causing confusion, it remains to be seen whether it too is breeding on the island – fingers crossed. The May Bird - Whimbrel are back in the Callows all of a sudden, with a flock of 20 birds feeding on the island. Skylark and Meadow Pipits practically explode from every area of ground and the sky fills with their parachute flight. Definitely not the island of death anymore!